Written by Scott Wood
Fill in the blank: It’s better to give ______ to receive.
If you’re like most adults, the missing word comes to you quickly. It’s the kind of no-brainer a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire dreams about.
Than. Final answer.
You’re correct. Unless, of course, you happen to be a CEO. In this case, I’d argue the answer you’re looking for is “and.”
Specifically, I’m talking about giving and receiving truth. The secret sauce of the most successful firms I work with isn’t superior business development strategies or outstanding customer service. While these can certainly play a part, eventually competitors catch up and your billion-dollar idea or groundbreaking personalized service becomes status quo.
No, the real outlier among highly ranked, highly respected firms is a culture where truth is present. These are companies where everyone, from the director of first impressions to the executive in charge, can freely voice their views without fear of retribution. They know something the rest of us don’t: The only way to consistently get better is to welcome honest feedback, no matter how gut-wrenching or heart-soaring it is in the moment.
Let’s Talk about Transparency
In an industry regulated as much as ours, transparency isn’t a foreign concept, it’s a fiduciary responsibility. Visit any “About Us” page on an advisor website and you’ll find they proudly claim this as a company value. With respect to clients, the good firms get this right. With respect to stakeholders, only the best firms do.
I consider transparency within an organization a 0 or 100 game. It’s all or nothing. People either have confidence they can share their thoughts and feelings or they don’t. It’s that simple.
Saying, as a leader, that you have an open door policy only works if your ears are open, as well. The false promise of two-way communication becomes a token gesture as soon as the person in charge doesn’t follow through. Time and again, I’ve seen things go south when truth becomes an unwelcome or barely tolerated guest.
Look around your firm. Do you notice the signs that truth and transparency are DOA? Is your team ultra-sensitive? Are there whispers around the water cooler? Do your meetings fail to include perspectives other than those at the highest level?
I’m here to tell you it’s okay if you answered “yes” to all of those questions. You are not alone in this struggle. What’s not okay is a downright refusal to change. New clients and increased AUM will only hide your sins for so long. When that novelty wains or the well dries, you are in danger of being left with disgruntled, disengaged stakeholders who lack the energy and desire to give you their all.
Let’s Start with the Easy Part
In a nod to toothpaste commercials (think 4/5 dentists agree), I’m willing to bet 99/100 advisors would say giving truth is much easier than receiving truth. This isn’t a financial services phenomenon; it’s natural human tendency.
Just because giving truth is the preferable option, however, doesn’t mean it’s without challenges. It CAN and DOES go wrong – and too often. If you’ve made it through decades of work without a red-faced, screaming boss, you’re among a select few. If you’re that aforementioned leader, you’re among the problem.
Giving truth is an art form. Refining it requires repeated practice and a measured approach. Over the years, I’ve found advisors who excel in this area possess these disciplines:
- They are accurate – They never jump to conclusions. Before giving truth, they do their due diligence and collect the facts. This allows them to take a step back and think things through before reacting. Additionally, it may expose some opportunities to be better on their part.
- They avoid being overly emotional – Business owners tend to have very high standards. Those skilled in giving truth understand not everyone is as emotionally invested in their business as they are. That’s why they take time to reset their emotions before addressing any issue. They make their truth about the matter at hand, not about the people.
- They do their research – You may be familiar with the concept of love languages. Just like each person has a preferred method of giving and receiving love, they also have a preferred way of receiving truth. Leaders who learn how each stakeholder likes to receive truth are able to create positive experiences, even when what’s being communicated is a potential criticism.
Let’s Face the Music
There is good reason why we use the cliché “the truth hurts.” Hearing the truth isn’t always the auditory equivalent of sunshine, puppies and rainbows. Quite frequently, in fact, the truth forces us to acknowledge those things we may not like about ourselves – i.e. our tendency to procrastinate, our unwillingness to compromise, our need to be right, etc. The mirror can be a scary place.
The beauty behind being confronted with the truth is that, if willing, you can use it to grow. Accepting that you are not perfect keeps your ego in check and your mind open to other, better ways of leading. And, as an added incentive, remaining humble means that when you do eventually make a mistake the people around you will want to help you, not keep you down.
So, how does one improve? Like giving truth, you need to practice. It will become easier with time, provided you:
- Don’t go in with a bias – If you approach the truth with the assumption you know more because you have more experience or because you are the person in charge, you’re ultimately engaging in a futile exercise. Instead, remove your preconceived notions.
- Ask givers to come with a solution – Swallowing the truth pill will be much more enjoyable if there is a proposed course of action. Solutions make truth rational, not emotional.
- Seek a second opinion, when needed – It doesn’t hurt to go to others and ask for their supplementary assessment. You can say something like, “Hey Jerry, Anne approached me with a concern she’s having about my responsiveness. Is this something you’ve been experiencing, too? How can I get better?”
Let’s Wrap this Up
You spend more time with your stakeholders than many of the other people in your life. Thus, it’s important you show these working relationships the same respect you would of family and friends. Give truth lovingly, receive truth graciously and, for gosh sakes, act on it afterwards.
Easier said than done? Yes.
Worth it? Heck yes.